Karma Sours Michael Finley's Decision to Go Green

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IApril 3, 2010

BOSTON - MARCH 10:  Michael Finley #40 of the Boston Celtics heads for the net in the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 10, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Grizzlies defeated the Celtics 111-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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His assigned mission complete, Michael Finley did what many in his shoes would have done.

All but locked out of the rotation thanks to a youth movement at his dual positions, he asked the Spurs brass to waive him. Doc Rivers promised the extra key Gregg Popovich could not.

Finley plays sporadic reserve minutes in a Celtics uniform, but nothing he does can resuscitate Kevin Garnett or keep Paul Pierce from dancing closer to the injured list. The 37-year-old guard faced a similar grim reality in San Antonio.

Two months ago, many wondered if Manu Ginobili was more washed up than a warehouse full of haywire Maytag machines. Then, Richard Jefferson looked disastrous and so did the Spurs’ title hopes.

Maybe Finley wanted to escape the eye of the storm. He did not want to drown in the inevitable capsizing.

The veteran shooter might still pack a clutch punch or two, but he won’t hurt San Antonio much as a bench cog in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics appear as shipwrecked as any wannabe contender, and Finley cannot repair the rudders or plug the gaping hole in the vessel’s left side.

The Spurs-Celtics Finals a number of analysts predicted last summer appears less likely than Danny Devito winning a world’s tallest man competition.

Finley’s value was never going to be realized in the regular season. When it comes to taking a shot with the team down by three or two points with five seconds left, he’s in a rare class.

He nailed eight three-pointers in a series clincher against the Denver Nuggets in the 2007 Playoffs.

He sent the Spurs’ 2008 playoff opener against the Phoenix Suns into overtime with a triple. He knotted the team’s eventual Southwest Division clincher last spring with another trey. That shot set up a fateful first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks.

How he left befits how he arrived. In 2005, Phoenix and Atlanta delivered pitches worthy of an international dignitary. Finley chose the Spurs because he appreciated Popovich’s low-key, direct approach.

Finley surprised many then. He did it again in March when he informed his coach he wanted out.

Always the consummate professional, no one can question the sincerity of Finley’s request. He still wanted to play, and Boston needed a better backup for Ray Allen.

That does not lessen the difficulty of this sorrowful goodbye. The San Antonio community adopted him as a native son, forgetting his All-Star years in Dallas. He seemed destined to retire in silver and black at season's end.

Instead, Jefferson started to show he could be everything Popovich wanted, and George Hill emerged as an explosive scorer and defender.

Ineffective since an ankle sprain sidelined him for more than a month, Finley was not going to play much behind Jefferson, Hill, Ginobili, or Roger Mason Jr.

His numbers in February suggested he could not have contributed much. He scored five points over a 28-day period and froze like a statue on the defensive end. He did not move, and the Spurs stayed with him in seventh place.

San Antonio played its best basketball of the season in March, navigating a brutal schedule without All-NBA point guard Tony Parker.

Friday night, karma bit Finley in the worst way. No one would argue he deserved it.

With the Celtics up two on the crippled Houston Rockets, Finley headed to the line with a chance to ice the game.

He made the first freebie but clanged the second. Rockets rookie Jordan Hill fought off two Boston defenders to secure the manliest rebound of the night.

Aaron Brooks, then, drained a game-tying three that might have made Jerry West blush. Yes, the Celtics could have fouled, or forced Brooks to drive into the teeth of the defense.

Finley and Tony Allen bricked critical foul shots. Doesn’t that matter more than everything else?

As the former All-Star missed the free throw that would have put the game out of reach, he likely remembered a similar night in mid-March last season.

Then, as the Manu Ginobili-less Spurs tried to fend off the defending champion Celtics in a slugfest at the AT&T Center, Finley and Parker combined to earn three chances in the final minutes to seal a momentous win at the charity stripe.

Finley, shooting in the high 80s at the time, missed four in a row. Parker clanged his tries. An emerging Glen “Big Baby” Davis sank the go-ahead baseline jumper to seal a painful choke job on the part of San Antonio. The Spurs and the “C” word in the same sentence?

Giving Davis a shot from that distance, then, was a stroke of defensive genius. Given the same shots against the L.A. Lakers in an overtime game earlier in the month, he missed four of five badly.

Davis began to hit that shot with regularity, and he eventually used the improved stroke to knot a second-round series with the Magic. His game-winner seemed to cement him as an integral piece for Boston.

The Spurs' gag job at the foul line in March only made them look older and unequipped to compete for a title.

Kevin Garnett played sparingly in the game. Bruce Bowen suffocated Paul Pierce, who finished 3-of-15 from the field.

Ginobili wasn’t available to swipe another inbounds pass to seal the outcome. Roger Mason Jr. could not produce another dramatic clutch triumph.

Finley had to know what was coming. The Spurs needed to unearth younger contributors, while returning to the stingy defense of years past.

Finley’s legs had started to buckle, and his zapped athleticism proved a nightly drain on the team’s defensive harmony.

Popovich should have known he was doomed against the Mavericks the moment Finley tried to hang with Josh Howard.

Finley soldiered through the summer and training camp, insisting the acquisition of Jefferson excited him. Competing for championships mattered more than individual glory, he said.

In November and December, with Jefferson stuck in the mud, it looked as if Finley would always own at least a token role as a Spur.

Then, Hill continued to show he merited more minutes, Ginobili started to look like Ginobili, and Jefferson found a clue. The game changed, and so did Finley.

If he compared the Celtics and Spurs in early March, and liked the championship chances for the guys in green better, no one would have declared him insane.

This last week full of endgame futility should make him sick.

His old team slammed his new one Sunday night at TD Banknorth Garden 94-73. A fledgling but overachieving squad from Oklahoma City stole a 109-104 victory right from Garnett’s furious, active hands.

The Rockets’ injury list upon arrival at Boston’s Logan Airport had become longer than Pinocchio’s nose. Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, David Andersen, and Jared Jefferies were unavailable. Trevor Ariza joined them on the inactive list at the last minute with the flu.

Finley had a chance to make Houston’s gritty effort moot by converting two free throws. Instead, karma reared its ugly head.

A moving screen call on Kendrick Perkins negated what could have been another game-tying shot in OT. The offensive foul did not matter. Finley's contested heave hit the back rim anyway.

More minutes cannot assuage the pain of the Celtics recent slippage in both the standings and every offensive and defensive category that counts.

Ray Allen finished Friday's game with more fouls than points. Garnett looked ancient at times, and missed eight of 12 attempts.

If the 37-year-old guard watched any NBA highlights after his team’s third straight home defeat, he saw Ginobili that erupted for 43 points in the Spurs’ 112-100 victory over the Orlando Magic.

And probably wondered what he was thinking five weeks ago.


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